Why do kids always want to do the opposite of what we are asking, or just point blank refuse to do it?

Let’s try to be curious instead of furious and look at some of the ‘WHYs’…

Why do kids take an oppositional stance?

● Kids are like small scientists, always on the lookout to test new theories and ideas. That’s how they are wired – they are just doing their job which is to be curious. So it is natural and normal.
● They’re trying to see how far they can go before you lose your cool by opposing everything you say – they are testing you. Again, this is normal.
● They’re attention-seeking: sometimes kids act out because they crave attention. If they feel like they’re not getting enough positive attention from you they may try to get your attention by becoming oppositional because that will get your FULL attention for sure!
● They feel controlled by you – bossed around: if you have not previously agreed about what you are asking them to do they might feel that you are being ‘mean’ or bossy. Often they see this as ‘giving orders’ and no one likes to be told what to do, or not do, so it just makes them do the opposite, or not do it at all. It certainly doesn’t move us closer to collaboration.
● Haven’t understood what you are asking of them: if you have a child with additional needs they might need to be asked in a different way and if you are throwing lots of words at them your message might be lost in the process. Also teens who are going through hormonal changes can find it ‘annoying’ when you go into word overflow. Maybe our requests are not actually clear at all. For instance, ‘your blazer is on the floor’…you think you’ve asked them to pick up their blazer. No, you just stated that it’s on the floor. ‘We’re going to be late’…you think you said, ‘We have to go now so get your shoes on so we can leave’..no, you just stated that you’re going to be late.
● We’re asking for too many things at once: this is called ‘chain commands’ where we throw out a lot of orders at the same time and don’t give them time to understand what we are asking and comply before we throw a new command at them. This often happens in the morning when we are short of time or in other challenging moments.
● Are they tired, upset, sad, hungry etc.? Our kids are just humans who have big emotions and have bad days too. Maybe it’s always after school that your child gets defiant? Are they hungry and tired? Or at night when they are exhausted or maybe if they don’t sleep well at night they are not at their best in the morning.

Oppositional defiant disorder:

And the you have children with Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD): a condition in which your child displays a pattern of uncooperative, defiant and angry behavior toward people in authority. ODD is treatable with psychotherapy for the child and parent management training. This behavior often disrupts your child’s normal daily functioning, including relationships and activities within their family and at school.

Approximately 40% of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also have oppositional defiant disorder or a related conduct disorder. While these two conditions commonly occur together, they’re distinct conditions. ODD is related to a child’s conduct and how they interact with their parents, siblings, teachers and friends. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes a person to be easily distracted, disorganized and excessively restless.

Signs and symptoms of ODD can be grouped into three categories:

  • Anger and irritability.
  • Argumentative and defiant behavior.
  • Vindictiveness.

In addition, many children with ODD are moody, easily frustrated and have low self-esteem. They also might misuse drugs and alcohol.

Parent management therapy (PMT) is the main treatment for oppositional behaviors.

Let’s start with that just by being more curious about why our kids become oppositional we can be more understanding and handle it in a smarter way.

Why does it effect us so badly?

Before we get to the ‘HOW’ I want to explore why this behaviour winds us up:

● Loss of control: we might feel that our kids have to do what we say and when they don’t we suddenly feel lost and out of control. It is when we feel that we have lost control that we start doing and saying things that are not very helpful, maybe even wrong. Do you have a child who just doesn’t want to…and no matter how hard you try they will not do it? You might think you have tried everything: asked nicely, offered rewards, given consequences, until you grab your last tool…ANGER and then you really have lost it! An angry parent has lost….and we don’t like to feel we have lost control of the situation and ourselves.
Feel we have failed as parents: our children are our mini ambassadors. So when they do well we feel proud of ourselves, that we have raised such a good kid. The opposite happens when our child is ultra defiant. We wonder what we have done wrong to raise such a child?
Don’t have time for this: as I mentioned before, it is often when we are busy and short of time that our child is defiant and we can’t handle it.

Or maybe we worry that this kind of behaviour will have an effect of their future relationship and quality of life.

So, now that you know the ‘WHYs’ you can work on the ‘HOW’ to respond, or not.

How can we deal with a defiant or oppositional child?

● First be curious:

  • When and with whom is your child most defiant? Morning, bedtime etc? only with you? With Siblings? With teachers?
  • Why is your child defiant? Explore the above reasons.
  • Why does it bother you: you don’t have time for it, it winds up the other siblings, makes you lose your temper?

Learn to control yourself: our big emotions can really get in the way of dealing with a challenging situation so CLICK here to watch the video. on how to master your own emotions
Normalise the situation: try to tell yourself that our child’s behaviour is normal and something they need to do, and I need to do my job which is to stay calm and consistent.
● Agree, don’t tell: sit with your child or family and agree on when you are having trouble and then agree to a new routine for those situations. Make an agreement on the expected behaviours and make it clear what will happen if they don’t live up to these agreements. You can also agree to a set of family rules around where the challenges arrive CLICK here to download and print chart that you can use during these conversations
Change what you can change: if it’s in the morning that you are having the most trouble then look at your morning routine. Do you need to allow more time, do more the night before so you have less to do in the morning, do you need to reset your routine etc.? If they are defiant around screen time, change what you can and set up a new ‘agreement’. CLICK here to download and print chart that you can use during these conversations
Be clear: make your request simple, short, specific and one at a time. Don’t use extra words. It is often when we are angry, pressed for time or feel we have lost control that we go into word flow but this is when our clever kids KNOW that we have lost it and they have won and we are open for negotiation.
Be in the moment: when you give a request stay with them: show that you are serious about this, so serious that your body, mind and words are working together and you are physically present. Get on their level or in front of them. If your child is ok with it, look them in the eyes. If your child is ok with it, lightly touch them. You might think you don’t have time for it. But you do. We can’t make more time in our day but we can choose how we use it. By giving one request at a time you will save time later on by avoiding the battles. CLICK here to read more about ‘act with confidence so your child will respect you’
Make time for one2one time: if you feel that your child is craving your attention, give it to them. Make sure you spend some one2one time with each of your kids every day. CLICK here to read about ‘quality time with your child’.

How to deal with resistance:

● Be consistent: every time you give in or give up you make it so much harder for yourself the next time. You teach the child that he just has to try harder at getting away with not doing what was agreed.
● CONTROL YOURSELF – not them!
● Allow them to have a reaction: when your child is resistant, STOP, BREATHE and THINK, ‘It’s not my job to control how they feel, I can only control my own emotions.’ It’s OK for them to say NO or that they don’t want to etc.
Listen, even though you don’t agree: once you have allowed them to have a reaction try to show them that you hear them. LISTEN: ‘I can hear you are angry right now, I understand that you are angry because you don’t want to go to bed, and that is OK.’ But that doesn’t change the fact that he needs to do it. Sometimes listening is all it takes to get your child back to co-operating with you. So don’t see it as a failure from your side or theirs – accept it and then deal with it.
● Less is more: words can be dangerous. Say what you agreed to and STOP there.
Don’t get into negotiation – this sounds like you are trying to convince the child about what you are saying, plus opens you up to further negotiation.
● Give positive directions: tell them what you want to see, NOT what you don’t want i.e. ‘it’s time to go to bed’ instead of ‘STOP screaming’.
● If you have agreed to the consequences i.e. less screen time, loss of privileges etc.  then do what you have said you will do. CLICK here to read about consequences.

CLICK here to watch ‘manging my child’s anger’

Best wishes –
Mette Theilmann – Director of Predictable Parenting and Founder of the Parenting Community